“Football for me is perfect and I love every single aspect of it. You know when you find something that is just everything? That’s what football is to me.”

Life pulls us in many different directions and displays such a wide range of emotions that it is quite easy to take things for granted for a variety of reasons.

To hear 18-year-old Camille Jenkins’ heartwarming love for the game as she begins to embark on what is, hopefully, a successful career is somewhat refreshing.

Ahead of the start of the 2023/24 season, she’s already got 24 games and three goals to her name at senior level after coming thorough the Derby County Women’s youth ranks as a centre-back, although she has now progressed to playing on the right-hand side of a back three or wing-back.

Prior to that, she had impressed in Derby County Community Trust’s Regional Talent Centres (RTC) for talented female footballers at a young age.

The pathway aims to deliver enhanced coaching and support designed to improve the development of elite female players. The age groups, from Under-10s to Under-16s, take part in weekly training and regular competitive fixtures and Jenkins impressed enough to make her way through the age groups and perform well at Reserve Team level when she made the step up.

She is regarded by the Community Trust as the perfect example of the pathway that they offer across their football programmes. After starting out as a player in the RTC she moved into their Football and Education programme and has recently completed her A Levels.

Her form under the watchful eye of Dan Dobrzycki in the reserves saw her progress into the first-team picture towards the end of 2021 which is where she finds herself today as she prepares for her second season as a permanent member of Sam Griffiths’ squad.

She holds the reserve-team staff in high regard and credits them, especially Dobrzycki, for building her confidence in getting on the ball and driving forward from the back, as well as developing her style of play and enhancing her love for football.

She’s also got a world-class role model in England and Barcelona full-back Lucy Bronze, someone she admires greatly. Jenkins has huge appreciation for her defensive and attacking skills, as well as her workrate and tactical awareness. She’s more a fan of players than teams, although she does enjoy watching Arsenal play owing to Leah Williamson, Kate McCabe and Kim Little. The same goes for Barcelona for the aforementioned Bronze and also the England national side for obvious reasons.

But let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves just yet, there’s plenty to get through and a story to tell.

“I always played football when I was little and I used to play with my brother Jack,” she said when asked where her love of the game came from.

“I eventually got into the RTC and I’d say things have gone from there. I got into it after being asked to trial for the RTC following an after-school activity playing football.

“I love every part of football and I like the fact you need to push yourself to be even better. Football for me is perfect and I love every single aspect of it. You know when you find something that is just everything? That’s what football is to me. I love it; it’s lot of fun. I think about it all the time and I want to play it all the time. It is the thing I enjoy the most in the world and it’s my passion.

“When I was younger, I just loved playing the games. I think that’s where it’s come from. I loved playing football from a young age, but I got ‘properly’ into it when I was with the reserves. It just hit me a bit more just how much I loved it which probably fell in line with it becoming more ‘serious’.

“I always wanted to play but at that point I realised how much football meant to me and it made me want to be the best that I can be. If you like, I became obsessed with it and knowing how I needed to be better for the team and myself. I suppose I appreciated it a bit more.”

Jenkins uses the word ‘fun’ regularly during an engaging half-hour chat at Moor Farm towards the end of July.

That’s not to say she doesn’t take her football seriously, far from it. She lives and breathes the game.

“I think it’s important to see it as fun and enjoyable because if that isn’t the case, you won’t be as good as you want to be,” she said.

“For me, fun can be it being intense too. It’s not a case of not taking it seriously because performing at a high level is fun too.”

Growing up, Jenkins was perhaps something of a rare breed in her friendship group when it came to football.

Not that it deterred her. If anything, it fuelled her passion more and immersing herself in the game has led to several new friendships as a result of sharing the same passion.

“In primary school, none of my friends played football,” she said. “They were sporty if you like, but not football.

“As I’ve got older, I’ve become close with some people I’ve played football with. I’ve got friends from school and in football. I’ve spent a lot of time training and travelling to games on a minibus with people, so you do become close and share the same passion.”

Her senior debut came almost out of the blue on 14th November 2021 and it was an afternoon that can easily be filed in the ‘mixed emotions’ category.

Derby suffered a shock FA Cup defeat to Stourbridge, going down 3-2 on home turf, but for Jenkins it was a pivotal moment in her fledgling career.

What she thought was going to be a relaxed Saturday afternoon at Nando’s changed with one phone call from her respected reserve-team manager.

“I can remember it now - Dan called me,” she explained. “He had been pushing for me to be kicking on towards the first team and I am grateful for that.

“He asked me, if I was comfortable, would I like to be in the squad on the Sunday for the first team? I couldn’t not say yes. I don’t think I’d have been picked again!

“I thought I’d be on the bench and maybe I’d get ten minutes. I had no expectation of starting whatsoever.”

Jenkins had never trained with the Derby first team beforehand, so much to her amazement - she was starting.

“I only knew I was starting when Sam revealed the team in the dressing room,” she said with a smile on her face.

“I do get nervous very easily, so I did have nerves. If I was coming off the bench, it would’ve been so much worse. I am thankful that the chance came from the start. It would’ve been hard for me coming on to keep up with the game and to have a responsibility to immediately be solid and good defensively.”

Derby went down to a late goal, a freak strike from the halfway line, but even that loss couldn’t take the shine off a special day in the Jenkins household. Her dad was in the crowd watching and it was certainly a big step outside her comfort zone.

If anything, it was an eye-opener of the level she needed to get to if she wanted to be an established member of Griffiths’ group moving forward.

Taking a sip of water before giving her answer, she admitted: “It was really awkward that we lost and everyone was so unhappy as we were expected to win, but there I was really happy because I’d got the chance to play!

“I didn’t think I did badly, I was alright I’d say. The main thing for me was it reinforced where I wanted to be by the end of the year and what I wanted to do. I think it pushed me to work harder and I did some training sessions with RDA Coaching. I knew if I wanted to get better, I needed to do more training sessions and stuff like that.

“I felt it was a realistic aim to be in the squad for the 2022/23 season, so I understood I had to do more sessions, train more and improve. It definitely made me realise the difference between reserve-team football and first-team football. I knew I needed to be physically better to perform at that level.”

The target of becoming a regular member of the first-team squad was realised for the start of the 2022/23 season as Jenkins formally made the step-up.

Several players left the group during the summer of 2022 for pastures new and the new-look Derby squad had a younger and smaller look to it.

Jenkins admits circumstances worked in her favour, she’s not one to big herself up, but with an opportunity in front of her she was determined to make the most of it.

“I am not stupid, I know there were situations as to why I got into the squad - it wasn’t that I was amazing,” she said with an answer that probably sums up her character.

“We were going with a smaller squad and some players had left, so I think that helped my case.

“From the minute I was with the group, I really liked it. I felt everything was taken more seriously and more important, not that it wasn’t before but this is first-team level now.

“I love that you have to go to the gym, that you have to eat well and do a lot just to be good for 90 minutes.

“I found it a bit hard to adapt at first as it was playing differently to the development teams. There was more structure to it, which I wasn’t used to. I’ve enjoyed the challenge of working hard just to be as good as the girls around me because everyone here at Derby County is amazing.”

By her own admission, Jenkins is ‘dead nervous meeting new people’ so it was a challenge for her to adapt to her new surroundings.

A year on, she seems settled and confident. Relaxed, almost, because of the environment and culture around her which is led by the management team and senior players.

“The first few weeks were difficult, but I feel really comfortable with everyone now,” she said. “I get along with the girls and I’m able to talk to any of them.

“I feel comfortable and I think having the environment we have here is set up to make all of us play to our best standard. It’s relaxed enough that you’re not judged but serious enough that if you do badly people will be quick to remind you of where you need to be.

“The staff have been amazing. Sam and all the staff are great coaches and top people. They have a standard you have to meet. They don’t accept people performing to a low level, so it pushes you to make sure you impress them.”

She enjoyed a positive 2022/23 season too, although her game time was limited due to shin splints.

Her first senior goal came in a 5-1 thrashing of Stoke City at Mickleover in January 2023, reading a corner into the box well to find the net from close range, while her second goal also came against the Potters in the reverse fixture the following month which ended in a 2-1 win.

March also saw her score a last-gasp header to secure a 2-1 win at home to Huddersfield Town. Her mum was there to see that one, too, and features in a picture of Jenkins celebrating.

Looking at the picture, she said: “That is one of my favourite moments. That’s my mum in the background, too! She’s shown it to all her friends at work.

“I liked that goal because Marli [Marli Rhodes-Andrews] crossed it and I scored it. We played in the reserves together and it was a nice moment.”

Whilst doing her A Levels in the last year, she was training twice a week in the evenings alongside volunteering for the Community Trust as a coach. That whet her appetite to already achieve her coaching qualifications after giving up free time to coach on the Emerging Talent Centre programme.

She studied History, Sociality and Psychology and is awaiting her results. No matter what the outcome of those, she is planning to have a year out to decide what she wants to do in her life.

It won’t come as a surprise to learn she wants to use the year to improve as a footballer. She’s looking for a part-time job to have some money coming in, so she won’t be kicking back on the sofa watching the world go by.

On the coaching aspect specifically, she believes gaining her qualifications will only enhance her game on the pitch, although she is not averse to a future career as a coach.

She explained: “I like the idea of coaching but also think that doing the coaching badges is a good way to educate yourself for when you’re on the pitch.

“If you look at a number of professional footballers, I am sure a lot of them will have coaching qualifications of some sort.

“It makes so much sense, for me anyway. You can analyse a team while you’re playing against them, think from a coach’s aspect and know the reasons behind some of the decisions you or the team make.”

Stepping up to the first team hasn’t changed her approach; don’t expect Jenkins to be getting ahead of herself any time soon - or at all.

“I think if you become arrogant you can become a bad player,” she admitted.

“You stop trying. I think then you just expect yourself to be good rather than working to be good. Then, on the pitch, you end up not trying to make up for your mistakes.

“I want to be ten times better than I am now and that will only come from hard work. It won’t just happen.”

And with that, the interview comes to an end. She’s still recovering from shin splints so she must be careful, but you can sense she’s itching to go full throttle into her football again.

At the age of 18 she has so much to look forward to both on and off the pitch in the years ahead but one thing is clear; football is going to play a huge part in wherever her life takes her.

Interview and words: Tom Loakes